The Grand Canyon State

Arizona’s a growing hit with winter refugees

Some like it hot – real hot – which explains the enduring popularity of Arizona. Traditionally a fiefdom of snowbirds originating in Western Canada, these days winter visitors from north of 49 are as likely to be from Ontario as Calgary. Of course, they’re coming for the climate and natural beauty (the Grand Canyon!) but also because Arizona has become a warm and welcoming retreat for winter visitors and an ideal place for business investment. If ever there was a desert kingdom, this is it.

 Places you’ll love
â–  Phoenix-Scottsdale
The Phoenix metropolitan area, a.k.a. the Valley of the Sun, is home to 23 diverse communities, including such familiar names as Glendale, Mesa, Paradise Valley, Scottsdale and Tempe. Besides its tempting property prices and desert climate, it has all the requisite amenities, including shopping malls and golf courses and easy access to modern health care.
Average prices (Scottsdale) House (single family): $365,000; condo: $134,000
â–  Bullhead City
Casino lovers have taken to this small town in Mojave County on the banks of the Colorado River where you only have to drive over a bridge to get to the casino palaces of Laughlin, Nev.And it’s only a two-hour drive to Las Vegas.
Average prices House (single family): $130,000; condo: $80,000

â–  Kingman
Located on historic Rte. 66, Kingman in northwestern Arizona has a more moderate climate, thanks to its altitude of 1,000 metres. This is cowboy country and there’s a local RV park that welcomes visitors with horses.
Average prices House (single family): $88,000; condo: NA

â–  Prescott
Located in the Bradshaw Mountains of central Arizona. Prescott is rife with attractions, with 600 buildings listed with the National Register of Historic Places. And what it lacks in winter heat (average January temperatures run at just over 10 C), Prescott makes up in beauty.
Average prices House (single family): $210,000; condo: $135,000

â–  Yuma
Yuma in southwestern Arizona is currently one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S., thanks in part to its modest prices and average winter temperatures running in the low 20s. Birdwatchers enjoy the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, with its wealth of migratory bird life and access to hiking, fishing and boating facilities.
Average prices House (single family): $118,600; condo: $91,100

Arizona’s hot house deals
Canadians are pouring money into the desert

“They almost fall off their chairs when they see what $200,000 will buy,” says Diane Olson, an ex-Winnipeg police officer who now sells real estate to Canadian snowbirds. And what exactly will $200,000 get you? How about “a nice house with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a two-car garage and maybe a pool.”
Olson says 50 per cent of her business is to snowbirds – she’s met so many of them in the past few years that she’s becoming something of a social networking agent, hooking up new-in-town golfers and motorcycle enthusiasts with like-minded types.
The average buyer, she says, is about 51 years old and of a mind that now is, if not the optimum time to buy, at least a darn good one. After all, she says, you never know when prices have hit bottom, but they are so down now, it’s a great time to buy.
She adds that her buyers are also investors who distrust the stock market and are looking for some place more tangible to invest their assets. And what’s more tangible than a roof over your head? Falling prices have opened up the developing west and the more established East Valley, which offers the amenities vacationers are looking for: shopping malls, medical care, restaurants, airports and recreational opportunities.
The majority of her buyers are looking for condos or single family homes as opposed to age-restricted communities that have bylaws that make it difficult to entertain. “You get these rules that restrict the time family can be with you or the kids can’t swim in the pool. Most of the people I’m selling to want to enjoy their retirement lives with their families,” Olson says.
While houses are selling all over the state, she points to the particularly popular locations of  Scottsdale, Chandler, Gilbert and Mesa. She says “mini-Canadas” can be found in Mesa and Gilbert partly because they have become so affordable.
And for those who can’t afford the $200,000 needed to buy? “Get together with other members of the family and pool your resources,” Olson advises. “Arizona is affordable, the weather is perfect and there are no hurricanes or other natural disasters to worry about.”

A Better Balance
Like so many state economies in the U.S., Arizona has fallen on hard times, and the economic stimulus provided by Canadians has made them look like “white knights with fat wallets,” claims Glenn Williamson, founder and CEO of the Canada Arizona Business Council (CABC).
“Canadian money was traditionally seen as a drop in the pool,” says Williamson, originally from Montreal.  “But now it’s starting to make a big difference. The people here just adore Canadians for bringing their money. There are Canadian flags flying everywhere, and you never hear about Canadians being treated badly.”
Williamson has had 25 years to observe the snowbird phenomenon in Arizona. Back in the ’60s, vacationers arrived with trailers and stuck to RV parks. However, they were soon followed by real estate developers, many of them Canadian, who built many of the planned communities ensuing waves of snowbirds subsequently bought into.
In the 1980s, Canadian aerospace companies started arriving, and they were soon followed by what might best be described as snowbird entrepreneurs, bringing their businesses with them. It works like this.
“These are the kind of people who know they want a retirement home in Arizona but they’re still actively engaged in their careers,” Williamson explains. “So they buy their snowbird retreat now and, instead of having their offices located in snowbelt communities where they were traditionally located, they’re opening them near their new homes in Arizona.”
“It used to be Canadians were buying double-wides (RV trailers) in Yuma,” Williamson says. “Now they’re buying the biggest houses in Scottsdale.”
The large number of Canadians flowing into Arizona has also given them political and economic clout. Thanks in part to lobbying efforts by the CABC, the state has forgone what’s been a bugbear for Canadians buying property in some other U.S. states – higher property taxes for foreign nationals.

Snowbirds need to know
• Canadians only represent 13 per cent of international visitors to Arizona but account for 53 per cent of visitor revenues

• 650,000 Canadians now visit Arizona annually

• 82,000 Canadians are estimated to stay at least 31 nights

• Average annual rainfall is 323 mm – Vancouver alone gets about 1,150 mm

• The state does get winter but at higher elevations and in northern communities

• Downhill skiing is available at Snowbowl, near Flagstaff